Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Courthouse (photo by Nic Lehoux)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Yesterday two local projects by Portland firms were named to the American Institute of Architects Committee on The Environment's annual Top 10 list of the nation's best sustainable designs: the Bud Clark Commons by Holst Architecture and the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building modernization by Cutler Anderson (of Bainbridge Island, Washington) in partnership with SERA Architects.
The two projects join a handful of Oregon buildings that have been named to the list since its inception in 1997, but with increasing regularity in recent years, including the Mercy Corps headquarters (designed by THA Architecture), PCC Newberg (designed by Hennebery Eddy) and the Hood River Middle School Music & Sciences building, all in 2012, as well as 12 West (by ZGF) in 2010, Eugene's Wayne Morse US Courthouse (by Santa Monica, California's Morphosis) in 2007, and the Bank of Astoria (by Tom Bender with SERA). The Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Design Plan by Seattle's Mithun was also named to the list in 2005.
"We are very excited to have been selected for this award because it recognizes the importance of uniting good design and sustainability," SERA's Lisa Petterson said by email. "Working with our design excellence partner, Jim Cutler, to integrate place-based/climate requirements early really enhanced the design. The biggest lesson learned from the EGWW project was how important having specific performance targets was on creating a culture of success both for sustainability and design."
The Wyatt Federal Building Project was originally planned as an occupied remodel, but was restarted in 2009 by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as a more extensive re-imagining that existing 18-story, 512,474-square-foot office tower (orignially completed in 1974) stripped down to its steel framing. ARRA legislation required the design team to meet the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), including 55% fossil fuel reduction (compared to a code-designed building), 30% energy usage reduction, 20% indoor potable water reduction and 50% outdoor potable water reduction. "Having a specific goal to meet allowed the team to determine if they were meeting the goal, and to keep designing until the goal was reached," Petterson added.
Looking up at the EGWW's west facade (photo by Brian Libby)
The Wyatt used to be a drab, forgettable office building. Now, it stands out in a big way because of two bold design moves: the exterior screens shading the west facade, and the slanted top. Both are based in sustainable, functional design moves: filtering glare with the screens and optimizing solar panels with the diagonal roof. But each is also an aesthetic move, so much so that the building has an almost post-modern quality.
It's a trend I have increasingly noticed amongst leading-edge sustainable design projects. The Bullitt Center in Seattle, for example, which is the first US office building in the United States to meet rigid Living Building Challenge standards, has an almost cartoonishly large roof that stretches seemingly for acres past its facade. It's done to maximize diffuse natural light without glare, a worthy functional effort, yet aesthetically it seems to have an oversized sense of proportion. I'm unquestionably a fan of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt, but if I were judging it on a purely aesthetic basis its to signature moves, the facade screens and the slanted top, would seem too large.
Thankfully when you achieve such optimal performance as the Wyatt does, we needn't judge the building superficially on aesthetics alone.
It was a little surprising to see the Bud Clark Commons, which was completed in 2011, named to this list in 2014. But eligibility for the honor stretches back 10 years, and besides: it was not at all surprising to see the AIA's Committe on the Environment found the project worthy of honor.
"We are extremely honored to be the recipients of what we consider one of the most challenging sustainable design awards programs in the nation," Holst partner Jeff Stuhr said by email. "For over 15 years, we have promoted and integrated green strategies into our work. For us, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that building timeless architecture - projects that will stand for a century or more – is the most sustainable thing a firm can do.”
The LEED Platinum-rated project provides a walk-in day center for the homeless with with a 90-bed temporary shelter as well as 130 studio apartments for homeless men or women seeking permanent housing with support services. An estimated $60,000 per year is being saved on energy thanks to investments such as one of the region's largest solar hot water heating systems, a tight thermal envelope to reduce heating loads, and a heat recovery system for residential unit. All told, the building performs 51% better than code in terms of energy efficiency and 53% better in water efficiency.
Not only is the Bud Clark Commons impressively efficient, but it serves as a striking symbol of Portland's 10-year effort to end homelessness in the city. Situated on NW Broadway between Old Town and the Pearl District, it's part of a kind of gateway into downtown and its form exemplifies Holst's long track record of exceptionally attractive, refined architecture. Though simple in form, a pair of long, rectangular brick volumes, Holst gives the building kinetic energy and charm with color and natural wood details.
If there's any downside to the project, it'sperhaps not the the design but its expense. The Bud Clark Commons cost $28.75 million (not including land) for its 106,000 square feet. In the future, if Portland is really going to forcefully address homelessness, we might need to compliment such an impressive flagship as Bud Clark Commons with some pragmatic, high-bed-count solutions too. But the Wyatt had a very similar per-square-foot cost. To look at first costs alone is of course to paint an incomplete picture. These buildings will ultimately save millions through their efficiency.
Meanwhile, having multiple Portland projects on the prestigius AIA/COTE Top Ten for the second time in three years gives a whole lot of validation to the idea that our city's design community is leading the way nationally. For all the jokes about our "Portlandia" DNA of bearded hipsters engaged in artisanal crocheting or pickling, the truth is that our culture thrives on innovation, not just as a means to make money but to create a more lasting sense of place. Bud Clark Commons and the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building embody this tradition and move it forward.